Soccer Recap - Zlatan Ibrahimović steals the show in MLS debut

Caption: Ibrahimović came off the bench in the 71st minute and scored a brace in his MLS debut. LA Galaxy

No story may have garnered more eyeballs in the soccer world this weekend than the debut of Zlatan Ibrahimovic with the LA Galaxy. The Sweden international arrived in Los Angeles on Thursday night, trained for the first time with his new team on Friday and helped his club to win the first LA derby.

Elsewhere in the world, leagues resumed after the FIFA international break. Coming up this week is the return of international club competition, including the UEFA Champions League.

Here are the top stories in soccer from the weekend:

Premier League

Manchester City picked up a 3-1 win at Everton, setting them up for a chance to clinch their third Premier League title in the 176th Manchester Derby next weekend against Manchester United. To be crowned against their neighbors - and in front of their people at the City of Manchester Stadium - would be a sweet way for the “noisy neighbors” to cap off the season.

The other race worth following is the other three spots for Champions League. Tottenham solidified their way towards securing a return to Europe’s primary international competition by defeating Chelsea 3-1 at their place, also compromising their London rivals into possibly missing out from the same competition. Arsenal picked up a 3-0 win vs. Stoke City, who are heading towards relegation while other relegation bound clubs West Brom and Southampton also lost.

Liverpool and Leicester City picked up road wins, Manchester United won 2-nil over Swansea and Newcastle picked up a 1-0 win over Huddersfield Town. Manchester City and Liverpool - the two remaining teams in Champions League - face off Wednesday in the first leg of the UCL quarter finals.

Top 5: Manchester City (84), Manchester United (68), Liverpool (66), Tottenham (64), Chelsea (56)

La Liga

Sevilla was winning 2-nil against FC Barcelona, having the league leaders against the ropes. Then Leo Messi came off the bench to inspire to a 2-2 draw - scoring one of his own to save a point and keep Barcelona’s undefeated record intact. Atletico Madrid, who were without star forward Antoine Griezmann, picked up a 1-nil win over Deportivo to keep pace in second. Real Madrid is behind them in third with a 3-nil win this weekend over Las Palmas. Valencia got a 1-nil win at Leganes while Villarreal stumbled, losing 1-nil at Malaga.

Top 5: FC Barcelona (76), Atletico Madrid (67), Real Madrid (63), Valencia (62), Villarreal (47)


FC Bayern Munich continue to dominate the Bundesliga by defeating their hated rivals Borussia Dortmund in a 6-nil beatdown. FCB continues to hold a stranglehold on the league with a 17 point lead, making it only a matter of time until they secure their 27th title. Schalke continues in second with a 2-nil win over Freiburg. Hoffenheim also picked up a 6-0 win, at home over Cologne. Leipzig got a 3-2 win at Hannover 96.

Top 5: FC Bayern Munich (69), Schalke 04 (52), Dortmund (48), RB Leipzig (46), Bayer Leverkusen (45)

Serie A

Juventus stayed at the top of the table with a 3-1 win over A.C. Milan, who fall to eight points from the top four. Napoli drew 1-1 at Sassuolo while Inter Milan won 3-0 vs. Hellas Verona. Lazio dominated Benevento in a 6-2 home win. The Serie A continues Tuesday with clubs playing midweek and on the weekend this week.

Top 5: Juventus (78), Napoli (74), Roma (60), Inter Milan (58), Lazio (57)

Ligue 1

There were only seven league matches this past weekend - excluding PSG and Marseille. Among notable results, Guingamp won 2-1 over Bordeaux, Nantes lost 0-3 vs. St. Etienne and Nice won 2-0 at Troyes with a double from Alassane Plea. Lyon won 2-0 at Toulouse. Monaco have their week 31 match coming up Wednesday.

Top 5: Paris Saint-Germain (83), Monaco (66), Marseille (62), Lyon (60), Montpellier (45)

Major League Soccer

Toronto FC picked up their first win of the season in a 3-1 bout over Real Salt Lake, days before their semifinal bout against Club America in the CONCACAF Champions League. Orlando picked up its first three points as well against the other MLS team still alive in CCL, New York Red Bulls. Vancouver - the best road team since 2015 - won 2-1 at Columbus, while Atlanta, NYCFC and Montreal picked up away wins at Minnesota, San Jose and Seattle respectively. Sporting KC defeated D.C. United at home while Colorado won 3-0 over Philadelphia.

The Houston Dynamo lost 2-0 at home to the New England Revolution, now the Dynamo’s second loss of the season after losing only once in league play in 2017. Down 1-0, the Men in Orange were down to ten men with the red card to team captain DaMarcus Beasley in the 35th minute. The Revs scored midway in the second half to secure the win - sending Houston into a three game winless streak.

The match of the weekend was the first ever LA Derby. Sold out before the announcement of Zlatan Ibrahimovic to the LA Galaxy, the first ever “El Trafico” (nicknamed after the city’s traffic reputation) started with dominance from expansion side LAFC. Carlos Vela put up the Black and Gold in the lead after five minutes, which eventually turned into a 3-nil lead. A goal by U.S. international Sebastian Lletget put the Galaxy back in it before Zlatan came in to inspire his team to the comeback victory, starting off the second goal and scoring the third and fourth. Sebastian Lletget will be a guest on Glenn Davis’ Soccer Matters this coming Wednesday (7-9 p.m. CT) on ESPN 97.5 FM.

East Top 6: NYCFC (13), Columbus Crew SC (10), Atlanta United (9), New England Revolution (7), NY Red Bulls (6), Montreal Impact (6)

West Top 6: Sporting KC (10), Vancouver Whitecaps FC (10), LA Galaxy (7), LAFC (6), Minnesota United (6), FC Dallas (5)

Liga MX

With a 2-1 win at Lobos, and a Atlas 3-2 win over Santos Laguna, Toluca are now top of the table in Mexico. Tigres won at home, 4-1 over Leon, in the battle of the felines. Chivas won 2-1 at Monarcas, days before their semifinal bout vs. NY Red Bulls, while the other Mexican Champions League team Club America won 2-1 over their Mexico City rivals Cruz Azul - eliminating them from the playoff race.

Top 5: Toluca (27), Santos Laguna (26), Tigres (25), Club America (24), Monterrey (21)

National Women’s Soccer League

Houston Dash opened week two in the NWSL with a scoreless draw against the Utah Royals - starting off new coach Vera Pauw’s era with two draws. North Carolina Courage welcomed Sky Blue FC to the 2018 season with a 1-0 win at home. Washington Spirit defeated Orlando Pride 2-0 while Portland Thorns won 3-2 at Chicago Red Stars. The league now breaks for FIFA friendlies.

The United States Women’s National Team will face off against Mexico at BBVA Compass Stadium on Sunday (12:30 p.m., TICKETS).

Top 4: North Carolina Courage (6), Seattle Reign (3), Washington Spirit (3), Portland Thorns (3)

Upcoming matches (All Times CT):

Tuesday, Apr. 3:

1:45 p.m. - [UEFA Champions League] Juventus vs. Real Madrid (FS1/FOX Deportes)

1:45 p.m. - [UEFA Champions League] Sevilla vs. FC Bayern Munich (Facebook/ESPN Deportes)

7 p.m. - [CONCACAF Champions League] Toronto FC vs. Club America (go90.com/Univision Deportes)

Wednesday, Apr. 4:

11:30 a.m. - [Serie A] A.C. Milan vs. Inter Milan (beIN Sports)

1:45 p.m. - [UEFA Champions League] FC Barcelona vs. Roma (FS1/ESPN Deportes)

1:45 p.m. - [UEFA Champions League] Liverpool vs. Manchester City (FS2)

9 p.m. - [CONCACAF Champions League] Chivas Guadalajara vs. New York Red Bulls (go90.com/Univision Deportes)

Thursday, Apr. 5:

2 p.m. - [UEFA Europa League] Arsenal vs. CSKA Moscow (FS1)

2 p.m. - [UEFA Europa League] Atletico Madrid vs. Sporting CP (FS2)

6 p.m. - [International Friendly] U.S. Women’s National Team vs. Mexico (FS1/Univision Deportes)

Friday, Apr. 6:

1:30 p.m. - [Bundesliga] Hannover vs. Werder Bremen (FS2)

1:45 p.m. - [Ligue 1] St. Etienne vs. Paris Saint-Germain (beIN Sports)

Saturday, Apr. 7:

8 a.m. - [Serie A] Benevento vs. Juventus (beIN Sports)

8:30 a.m. - [Bundesliga] Augsburg vs. FC Bayern Munich (FS2/UniMas)

11:30 a.m. - [Premier League] Manchester City vs. Manchester United (NBC)

1:45 p.m. - [La Liga] FC Barcelona vs. Leganes (beIN Sports)

4 p.m. - [MLS] Atlanta United vs. LAFC (ESPN)

Sunday, Apr. 8:

8:15 a.m. - [Premier League] Everton vs. Liverpool (NBC Sports)

8:30 a.m. - [Bundesliga] Dortmund vs. Stuttgart (FS1)

9:15 a.m. - [La Liga] Real Madrid vs. Atletico Madrid (beIN Sports)

10:30 a.m. - [Premier League] Chelsea vs. West Ham (NBC Sports)

12:30 p.m. - [International Friendly] U.S. Women’s National Team vs. Mexico (FOX)

3 p.m. - [MLS] Orlando City vs. Portland Timbers (ESPN)

8 p.m. - [MLS] LA Galaxy vs. Sporting KC (FS1)

Sunday, Apr. 9:

2 p.m. - [Premier League] Arsenal vs. Southampton (NBC Sports)

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Here's what the data tells us about Bregman. Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

Alex Bregman had a rough season in 2020 by his standards. He slashed .242/.350/.451 in 42 regular season games. His regular season included a trip to the 10-day IL for a hamstring strain he suffered in mid-August. His surface-level struggles continued in the postseason, where he slashed .220/.316/.300 in 13 games. However, that postseason sample size does include a tough luck game against the Tampa Bay Rays where he went 0-for-5 with five hard hit balls.

All-in-all, 2020 felt like a lost season for Bregman. He never really got going. He got off to a slow start, but he's always been a slow starter. Once he started to pick it up, he strained his hamstring, and he played poorly after returning from the hamstring strain. Then, he started to turn his batted ball quality around in the playoffs, but he hit into a lot of tough luck outs.

Hard Hit % - 33.6%

Barrel % - 3.9%

K% - 14.4%

BB% - 13.3%

Chase % - 18.1%

Bregman comes from the Michael Brantley school of hitters. He has elite plate discipline and elite bat-to-ball skills. This makes Bregman a fairly consistent hitter. That may sound odd considering his 2020 "struggles" but even an extended period of poor performance for him resulted in a .801 OPS and a 122 wRC+. If his valleys are still 22% better than the league average hitter, then that's a pretty reliable producer.

There aren't any alarming trends in Bregman's statistics. Yes, his K% was slightly up, his BB% is slightly down, but it isn't a massive difference in either category. His Chase % was up, but again, 18.1% is elite discipline. The biggest drop was in his Hard Hit%, where he fell from 38% to 33.6%. Even so, his average exit velocity only dropped .4 MPH, so there's not really a catastrophic trend here.

His .254 BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play) was low, but he's never put up really high BABIP numbers. In fact, his BABIP has gotten worse every year of his career, from .317 to .311 to .289 to .281 to .254. While his BABIP will likely spike back up next year, it isn't enough to be the difference between the 2019 and 2020 versions of himself. His xBA and xSLG weren't out of whack either. His .256 xBA isn't much better than his .240 AVG, and his .400 xSLG is actually worse than his .451 SLG.

Bregman is as forthcoming with his hitting mechanics, approach, and mental cues as any big leaguer out there. Here is what he had to say about his swing this year. This was a Zoom press conference with the media following the Astros game on September 25th against the Rangers.

Bregman says he wants to hit balls in the air to the pull side and on a line to the opposite field, but in reality, he was hitting flares to the opposite field and hitting them on the ground to the pull side.

The data mostly backs up that claim. In 2019, on balls hit to the pull side, Bregman had an average exit velocity of 90.7 MPH at an average launch angle of 16°, a 40% Hard Hit %, and a 16% HR%. Since Bregman has elite bat-to-ball skills, most of those metrics didn't change. In 2020, his average exit velocity was 90.6, essentially the same as 2019. His Hard Hit % was 42%, a touch better than in 2019. However, his average launch angle dipped from 16° to 11°, which contributed to his HR% dropping all the way to 9%. Bregman hit 47% of his pull side swings on the ground. In 2019, that number was 40%. He absolutely had less production to the pull side in 2020.

The data gets a little hazier going the opposite way when comparing 2019 to 2020, as Bregman actually performed slightly better to the opposite field in 2020 than 2019, but he also only had 20 batted balls to the opposite field all season. Considering the small sample size, it isn't worth diving too deep into the data.

He's right that most of the balls he hit that way were flares. He had an average exit velocity of 83.4 MPH with an average launch angle of 32°, but that's about the same as what he did in 2019. A lot of the statistical drop off comes from balls that were backspun rockets to the pull side in 2019 becoming top spinners or roll overs in 2020.

Bregman also performed horribly against breaking balls in 2020. He batted .150 with a .250 SLG against them in 2020. He had an 84 MPH Average Exit Velocity against them and whiffed 26.5% of the time against them.

It was a far cry from 2019, when he hit .265 with a .588 SLG, 87 MPH average exit velo, and whiffed 18% of the time.

Those numbers lend credence to his statement on his mechanics. It's tough for a hitter to have adjustability against breaking balls if he's blowing out his front side and pulling off of the baseball.

Bregman will spend the offseason working on these mechanical fixes and getting back to the hitter he used to be. If he's consistently hitting the ball in the air to the pull side next year, and he's performing better against breaking balls, then he should be right back in the mix for AL MVP.

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